1000 Hours

A couple weeks ago I received an email congratulating me on 1000 hours flying with Mission Aviation Fellowship accident free. I received this commendation with mixed feelings. While I’ve worked hard over the last several years to fly safely, I’ve often felt that accomplishing that goal was a crazy mix of skill, caution, luck, Divine intervention, and excellent training. I’m honored to have reached this goal, but I look forward to the next flight and worry.

I’m not worried that I’ll decide not to be safe. I worry that I’ll let my guard down. I worry that I’ll start being just a little bit lazy. I worry that I’ll start to forget the lessons I’ve learned over the last 1000 hours.

So as an exercise of reminding myself, and as a way to share some hard earned lessons as a bush pilot, here is a list guidelines to remember.

  1. Take more fuel. You’ll never regret leaving behind that one bag to have another 20 minutes of fuel on board.
  2. Have about 3x more outs than you think you need.
  3. You can push fuel reserves, daylight, or weather, but never more one.
  4. Terrain is always closer than you think it is, unless you’re looking at it, then it’s farther away.
  5. If you can’t see due to low visibility, don’t go.
  6. If you think you can see in low visibility, you actually can’t, so don’t go.
  7. If can see, try it.
  8. Marginal weather in the mountains is really IFR weather.
  9. You can never check your airplane for damage too much.
  10. If something isn’t right, but you don’t know what, turn around and go home. Better to figure out what it was safe on the ground than on an accident report.
  11. Fridays are for mistakes. If it’s Friday you’re probably tired. Quit as soon as you catch yourself screwing up little things.
  12. Always fly a stable approach. This will be the hardest at your home base.
  13. Practice your emergency procedures, but do it safely. Touch drills are best.
  14. Passengers don’t know half of the danger they are in. Educate them if they can handle it, assure them if they can’t.
  15. Take-off performance isn’t a joke. Know your aircraft performance numbers for your altitude and add lots of margin.

What are some rules of thumb that you use?

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Watch “Departure from Holuwon, a back country airstrip in Papua, Indonesia.” on YouTube

Nepal 2015

Nepal MapIn late spring 2015 two earthquakes struck the Himalaya Mountains just north of Kathmandu in Nepal. Both earthquakes were over 7 on the Richter scale. The destruction left behind crippled the entire region, wiping whole villages off of the mountain sides. Roads and trails throughout the region were rendered impassable by landslides. The situation was truly dire.

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Mission Aviation Fellowship has a department that is specifically intended to respond to major disasters like this. Within days of the first earthquake, MAF sent a small team to determine if there was a need for our skills as an organization or transportation or communications assistance.

A need was found, and MAF put out a call for volunteers, staff members who were willing and available to travel to Nepal for a rotation to help with the relief efforts.

I was sitting in the breakroom at the MAF headquarters hanger for the morning meeting when that need was expressed. I immediately felt an excitement to be able to go and help in any way I could with the relief work that was just beginning. A team was selected, and sent out, and I was still waiting in the hanger. I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to help. Then the second quake hit, and the first team was getting ready to change out. I was approached about going to Nepal to help, and I eagerly accepted.

MAF had discovered that there were numerous smaller organizations ready and eager to be of assistance in the mountain villages, but the waiting list for rides on the UN helicopters was weeks long. MAF contracted with a helicopter operator in Kathmandu that usually flew for tourists and trekkers to commit two helicopters seven days a week to flying for these organizations. With help from UKAID and DFID, and funds that MAF had raised, these smaller groups were able to fly for a significant discount to give aid to needy villages. Medical care, emergency food stuffs, water filtration kits, and temporary shelters were getting flown into the mountains.

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I didn’t leave for Nepal until June 15th, but I was there for a month. My primary job was to meet passengers and cargo at the domestic terminal in Kathmandu. I helped carry hundreds of bags of rice, water filters, and tarpaulin through that terminal, and became acquainted with medical teams and others by first name over the weeks I was there.

It’s hard to describe the destruction I could see in Kathmandu from one day to the next, it was even harder yet to explain the way things were in the villages. What struck me the most was the way that the Nepali people were bonding together to rebuild. At one Buddhist temple complex, a number of the shrines had collapsed. A huge crowd had gathered and they had formed a line to pass debris long the line and away. It was like random men, women, young and old, had just stepped into line to help clear away the mess. Even in the villages, relief supplies were not stolen or hoarded, but gathered in one place to assist in distributing evenly throughout the entire area, not just where the helicopter landed.

This man is working with the village to gather supplies in order to distribute them fairly throughout the region.

This man is working with the village to gather supplies in order to distribute them fairly throughout the region.

It’s been a few months, since I came back. I still worry though, about those villages I got to visit, and all the others that I helped, but never saw personally. What will happen when winter comes? Will they be warm? Will they have food and adequate shelter?

Nepal is a beautiful land. I loved being there, and being able to help provide relief care to the villages throughout the region. It was a great honor. But Nepal’s recovery is far from over. Pray for Nepal. And keep supporting groups that are still there giving aid. The need is not over.

Thank you for supporting my ministry with MAF and making it possible for me to serve the people of Nepal.

Thank you for supporting my ministry with MAF and making it possible for me to serve the people of Nepal.

The Depressed Missionary. Part 3: Recovery

A couple months ago I posted about how Joy and I have been having an incredibly difficult time while overseas. I shared how we had finally “arrived” at what I believed to be God’s calling on my life. Somehow in the process of arriving there however, we had become so damaged and hurt that we, specifically I, could not actually fulfill our role there in Nabire. During perhaps the most difficult few months of our lives, we came to the realization that I was experiencing a depressive episode and that we needed some serious help.

In a previous post, I shared how we were moving back to the US for a year. The plan was for Joy and I to return to the MAF headquarters where I would continue working, and we would be seeking professional help as we worked through our brokenness.

The best way to describe this summer is to compare it to a roller coaster. If you’ve walked through a depressive episode, diagnosed or not, you understand that even during recovery, you have good days and bad days. There are moments when you feel the darkness creeping back in around the corners of your world. There are moments when you take a deep breath, look around, and realize that you are happy, not because of a drug, or something you ate, or something someone said, but just because you are. And then the day comes when you realize that you haven’t been actively trying to hide for days.

It happened just a couple weeks ago. I was working in the hangar at MAF, up to my elbows in project when I paused and looked around me. A sudden thought had come to me. I was content. It was an unlooked for epiphany. The darkness was gone.

The path to this point has been long, expensive, and uncomfortable. It’s been hard on my family, especially my wife. But we are doing so much better now.

When people ask us if we want to go back to Nabire, our answer has become a “Yes, but not yet.” Part of recovery for us has been learning to recognize our own needs, call them what they are, and choosing to be unashamed of them. Something we have to see that we need is time to be stable. Time to be home. And time to be with our friends and family.

That’s what this year is about. It’s about time to recover. Have you experienced depression and recovery? What helped you?